Depending who you talk to Downtown L.A. is the new Las Vegas when it comes to the restaurant scene. Abandoned store fronts that you used to speed quickly past are now coveted for their proximity to the Staples Center. So, it was with some excitement that we arrived at an opening party for Fred Eric's new Cafe Tiara at the New Mart on 9th St. near Main.
And what a party it was. With the street section immediately in front closed off, a stage had been erected featuring at one point a scantily clad soprano singing an aria from "La Boheme" where the USC marching band had moments before offered a rousing performance. Baz Lurhmann would have been pleased. Hell, he may have been there. It was that kind of crowd.
The grand space, semi divided at one point to allow for what may become a retail space, has a fun gutter elegance to it - Vincent Minelli meets John Waters. Last night it served as the bar where people clamored for beignet like droppings of fried dough that you could dip into a silver chocolate fountain. Waiters anxiously tried to get trays of spicy salt cod topped flatbread beyond the immediate area of the open kitchen to no avail but we did manage to score a couple of shot glasses of a tasty habanaro soup with cilantro pesto.
The delightful surprise of the evening was seeing Chef Susan Regis of Lydia Shire fame handling some of the proceedings behind the line. A presence at the short-lived Langdon's in Century City, she is here, we were told, for just the opening.
You don't go to these affairs to eat really so we headed over to Full House in Chinatown for some of those wonderful Szechwan green beans, cod in black bean sauce, pungent shrimp, fried calamari and Peking duck. $67 for five people! We left at 11:45pm and noted that the restaurant was now on a wait reminding us of many other post Dodger, Music Center, USC excursions. As we dropped one another off at our respective cars, a crew was breaking down the stage, and Mr. Eric, tiara in tact, was still supervising in resplendant style.